Tom MacWright

tom@macwright.org

I read Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener on

Review

Uncanny Valley is a very fast read. It’s a book about being a young woman in the tech industry. Its main value is in presenting a view of that situation in which she (Anna) is not a type-A go-getter who does everything right and works overtime to succeed: it isn’t Lean In or the other sorts of empowerment books. It’s good to read something from someone who just wanted a better job.

And its main quirk is that all the proper nouns - names of companies and people - are missing. I suppose this is to detach it from its exact era, to make its observations more permanent or universal. Unfortunately, I didn’t find much there: in observations, character studies, ideas, critiques, it’s thin, uninteresting, and commonplace. The prose is fine, just fine.

Occasionally it veers into being annoyingly simplistic, or self-aggrandizing. The ideas about authenticity are grating. It has two chapters that end with shocking quotes in the style of a newspaper profile, but it does no work to frame them or capture any context. They end up feeling like asides, or even fabrications.

All in all, it left me waiting for something. It isn’t about particulars, but it isn’t about anything else either.


Anyway, since it doesn’t have the nouns and the ‘complete guide to nouns in Uncanny Valley’ is totally not complete, here’s a more complete guide to proper nouns in Uncanny Valley.

The acquisition was part of a multibillion-dollar shopping spree, in service of a new robotics division named after an android from an eighties sci-fi film.

Bot + Dolly

The acquisition was part of a multibillion-dollar shopping spree, in service of a new robotics division named after an android from an eighties sci-fi film.

Google’s Replicant division

He was modest and wildly talented, and rumored to have had a windfall after being an early employee at a gaming company that made a viral farming simulator.

Farmville, and Kyle Warren

He was reading a book by one of our investors, he said. I was familiar with it. The book offered guidance on how to navigate the choppy waters of entrepreneurship and conquer the twin demons of self-doubt and external pressure. It spoke of learnings, battles, journeys.

The Hard Thing about Hard Things

Chief among them was a founder of the seed accelerator, an English computer scientist who was the startup ecosystem’s closest thing to an intellectual.

Paul Graham, though he moved from England at age 4 so barely qualifies as English in summary.

The bar smelled like a deep fryer, and a fleet of motorcycles hung from the ceiling.

This bar, now closed, was Eddie Rickenbackers

The engineers all read a heavily moderated message board, a news aggregator and discussion site run by the seed accelerator in Mountain View.

Hacker News

The conference had been established in honor of a female engineer who helped develop military technologies during the Second World War, a nod, perhaps inadvertent, to the industry’s underacknowledged government origins.

That’s the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing

Employees were asked to use the phrase on their email signatures and professional résumés; their director went by Captain of Moonshots.

That’s Eric ‘Astro’ Teller

I left my apartment to meet Patrick for dinner at a restaurant with a cinema theme.

Foreign Cinema

Talk turned to a libertarian economist, an academic and director of a conservative research center.

That’s Tyler Cowen

Sitting outside a fast-casual Greek restaurant on Valencia Street were two men engaged in animated conversation, their napkins wadded on the table.

That’s Souvla

Details